Almost a quarter of billion dollars worth of Brazilian talent will be on the field in Shanghai on Wednesday as two Chinese Super League teams meet in the second round of the 2017 Asian Champions League.
Big names such as Hulk, Oscar, Alex Teixeria, Ramires and Elkeson have all helped Shanghai SIPG and Jiangsu Suning progress past the group stage to set up the first-ever all Chinese meeting in the tournament’s history.
With two-time winner Guangzhou Evergrande also in the last 16, China has more teams in the second round than ever before, with all three teams that started the tournament surviving the first round. It is another sign of the growing strength of the big spending Chinese league.
“We will have to be at our best when we play Jiangsu,” said Shanghai coach Andre Villas-Boas ahead of the first leg, which takes place on Wednesday with the return match in Nanjing a week later. “We know all about their quality and they know all about us. We have been playing well and we will have to continue that form.”
The two teams come into the game in very different situations. Hulk’s fifth league goal of the season helped the team to a 3-1 win in Friday’s Shanghai Derby at Shanghai Shenhua. The three points put SIPG second in the table behind Guangzhou.
Jiangsu, runner-up in the league in 2016, may have won its group with two games to spare but has been struggling at home.
After ten games of the season, Jiangsu is bottom of the 16-team league with just one victory, and speculation is growing in the Chinese media that the team’s coach Choi Yong-soo is in serious trouble.
“We haven’t been getting the results in the league but our form in the Asian Champions League has been good this season,” said Choi, who led FC Seoul to the 2013 final. “It will be a tough game against Shanghai but if we can get a good result there in the first leg we will have a good chance of going to the next stage.”
Despite the growing challenge from Chinese teams, Guangzhou Evergrande remains the only club to bring the trophy back to the country.
Under Luiz Felipe Scolari, Guangzhou, which has won the last six Chinese Super League titles, is looking to become the first club to win three Asian Champions League tournaments. The first two came in 2013 and 2015.
Guangzhou was less impressive than Jiangsu or Shanghai in the group stage but leads the standings in China. It faces a tough task against Japanese champion Kashima Antlers, with the first leg at home.
Elsewhere in the eastern zone, the tournament is divided into two geographical regions that come together only in the final, Thai champion Muangthong United is preparing for the first knockout game in its history, against Kawasaki Frontale of Japan.
The 2007 champion, Japan’s Urawa Reds, travels to the South Korean island of Jeju to face Jeju United.
The pick of the ties in the western zone sees 2016 finalist Al Ain of the United Arab Emirates meeting Esteghlal of Iran.